Thursday, December 11, 2008
Wednesday Demonstration with the Halmoni for International Human Rights Day
For International Human Rights Day, I participated in one of the weekly Wednesday Demonstrations in front of the Japanese Embassy. I first learned about the issue of sexual slavery by the Japanese military when I visited Sharing House. Sharing House consists of both a museum and a house where some of the halmoni live together. International volunteers run English tours. In addition to learning about what happened in the museum, if you are lucky you can listen to one of the halmoni narrating their own story. It was an incredibly moving experience. Halmoni means grandmother in Korean and is the preferred and respectful term used when referring to the survivors, who are in their 70s and 80s. As Kim Hak-sson said, "We must record these things that were forced upon us."
Seven Demands to the Japanese Government
1. Admit the drafting of Japanese military comfort women.
2. Apologise officially.
3. Reveal the truth about the crimes.
4. Erect memorial tablets for the victims.
5. Pay restitution to the victims or their families.
6. Teach the truth about this so you do not repeat the same crime.
7. Punish the war criminals.
Han Do-soon, one of the oldest survivors of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery, passed away Friday, Dec 5th, 2008, at a nursing home near her hometown in North Jeolla Province. Her death means there are now only 94 surviving former "comfort women" registered with the Korean government, as the elderly survivors are rapidly passing away. There is little time left for these courageous women to hear a long-sought apology in this lifetime.
My coworker Shawn and I arrived in front of the Japanese embassy just before noon, and the Halmoni arrived just after that for their customary protest. The organizers say that about 100 or so supporters were there at the peak of the protest, with Korean and international speakers supporting the Halmoni. We had people from: Japan, New Zealand, Indonesia, Canada, Thailand, US, Malaysia, France, Peru, Brasil, Korea...and perhaps more that I've forgotten to mention.
From the moment I arrived, I was told that the police (and there were about three buses of them at that point) were not happy that the protest was intended to be longer than usual ('til 4, as advertised) and informed us that the protest was illegal and that we would be arrested if we stayed past 1 pm. It was also brought up that it was illegal for all the foreigners to be present at a protest, as that goes against our visa regulations. Which is something that I learned ages ago - it's true for many countries and I discovered it back when I did a university exchange and they told us to be careful. However, foreigners have been heavily involved with the halmoni protests for years and that hasn't been a problem before. Finally, the police told us simply that we would be arrested if we stayed past 1 pm, and around 12:45 about SIX more police buses filled with riot police arrived and started to pen in the area. I had left to find a bathroom and a snack and I had to get the police to let me through their lines to find Shawn again. The guy was adamant that I stay out of the area until I explained that those were my friends and if they were getting arrested, I guess I'd have to, too. At that he just shrugged and let me by. When we didn't leave immediately at 1, the riot police lined up with shields, then started marching toward us to corral in those who hadn't already left. We stayed for a while, but ultimately fell back/were pushed back and headed over to Insa-dong where they set up the speaker and posters.
The rest of my pictures of the demonstration are here.